Just a quick hit here from me today on a totally off-the-ice front (or two):
A big time welcome and congratulations to the many newcomers to KK that have landed here in recent weeks, launching their new (or relocated) blogs and a very special shoutout to my man Brian Metzer, who has some very big, yellow and black shoes to fill for the departing Tony of The Confluence fame. Have no fear, Pens fans: Mr. Metzer is first-rate all the way and his cleverly titled From the Point Too is sure to please. I am beyond stoked to work with Brian here under the Kukla umbrella on a permanent basis, after our successful and popular collaboration during last year’s Lightning/Penguins series and of course, our time as colleagues elsewhere from years past. (Seems like eons ago now, don’t it, Metz?)
Who knows? Maybe that “one time only” Bolts and Birds podcast might have to make a second time only appearance now… (And a third? A fourth???)
With Metz and the rest of the new blood coming aboard, it’s impressive to see the site being fleshed out so thoroughly with big-time talent focusing on so many teams.
It also makes me realize I need to start stepping it up again…
Beyond the madness of July 1, some time round about, oh, now each year, things tend to taper off so far as action in the hockey world goes.
In the absence of actual news, much like what no beer and no TV once did to Homer Simpson, people tend to go a bit nutty. For instance…
*The consistent wave of rumors du jour that usually go in one ear and out the other might stick with people a while longer, against their better judgment. (Test yourself: 3-way deal between Pittsburgh, Washington and Tampa Bay involving all of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and [the rights to] Steven Stamkos. If you threw this out the window before finishing reading “Sidney”, your faculties are still intact. If not, seek help.)
*Staples of the web, like KK’s own The Confluence, might just pack it in for good. Tony has done just that and that makes us sad. But best wishes down the road and thanks for years of solid material.
The NHL Entry Draft is one of those annual “hope springs eternal” events. If the awards show bids farewell to a season gone by, the selection process for the latest prospect crop marks the league’s transition into next year.
Just like that, every club starts anew.
Just like that, the page is turned for all.
The Boston Bruins reign as Stanley Cup champions has just begun and yet, as of tonight, even they have work to do. 29 other teams are now gunning for what they have. And for some, reshaping their franchises to make a run at hockey’s iconic chalice will start with their first overall selection tonight.
Of course, it’s been said that there aren’t any immediate game-changers to be had among this crop – and certainly not beyond a half-dozen or so prospects atop most draft boards. But the draft itself has become such an integral aspect of building a championship-caliber team, even the late round selections will be a product of weeks and months of internal debate and study on the part of a team’s decision-making hierarchy.
For other clubs, the leap from 2010-11 to 2011-12 will be aided during draft weekend by trade. This year, with the Philadelphia Flyers kicking things off with a pair of earth-rattlers a day in advance, shipping key components Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town in separate deals yesterday, the expectation is that trade activity in St. Paul could be high. As teams gear up for free agency next week, some will look to get a jump on crazy season by filling holes and altering their salary scales with a deal or two and there is a wealth of big-name talent reportedly on the trade market already.
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Anyone else feel like the Tampa Bay Lightning have enjoyed a mini-off-season of sorts lately?
Granted, it’s only been five days since the Bolts disposed of the Washington Capitals with the big broom of death, completing the four-game sweep at the St. Pete Times Forum last Wednesday to reach the Eastern Conference Final (and granteder, any kind of rest would do wonders for any team at this time of year) but, still, the first two rounds were quite the whirlwind and after a head-spinning couple of weeks, in all honesty, it’s been nice to have a little down time.
That’s all over for the Lightning, who returned to practice yesterday and hit the ice again today (with the addition of forward Simon Gagne, albeit in a red, non-contact jersey, now expected to be back for game one).
And it’s all over for yours truly as well as we’re close enough now to the start of the series for a comprehensive preview to post aaaaaaaaany time now and for game-by-game coverage to resume in short order, to boot.
With that, I’ll remind you of the upcoming collaboration with Matt Kalman of The Bruins Blog, who is working with me on the series preview and will be joining forces throughout the series for alternating Q&A sessions not unlike those I had the pleasure of doing with From the Point‘s Brian Metzer in round one.
Filed in: Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
The Pittsburgh Penguins understood the distinction between regular season and playoff hockey. They just didn’t have the firepower to finish off the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Washington Capitals had all kinds of firepower at the ready but still haven’t mastered the “next level” aspect of the postseason. That their offensive arsenal never fired in unison only exacerbated their issues resulting in a clean semifinal sweep by the Bolts.
Now, with their opponent for the Eastern Conference Final officially set in the Boston Bruins, the Lightning will face their stiffest competition yet.
Boston has both the guns and the gusto, as well as a feel for the pulse of the playoffs.
Not that Pittsburgh and Washington weren’t (because it can be argued that both previous playoff adversaries for the Lightning, particularly the latter, underachieved to a certain extent in their respective series) but the Bruins are dangerous.
And they possess the primo crease-keeper in all the NHL, in the eyes of many.
The Tampa Bay Lightning pushed division rival Washington all year, perhaps forcing the division champs to elevate their game to a level they wouldn’t have reached themselves, regardless of the regular season success they’ve enjoyed in four straight seasons.
Now, as Tampa Bay’s push has continued into the second round of the playoffs, where they currently lead Washington 2-0, it’s as simple as the Capitals having no other choice but to push back – if they even have it in them.
It’s beyond gut-check time for the Caps, the perennial postseason underachievers who now head to Tampa in quite the hole, up against a Lightning squad that has exhibited incredible resolve and team commitment, not only of late in the playoffs, but all year long.
They did so again last night, without key contributors up front and on defense, with forward Simon Gagne and defenseman Pavel Kubina both lost to probable concussions in game one. Lo and behold, a replacement Jones for each hobbled player stepped in adeptly in the game two win. Forward Blair had a momentum-changing quick shift in overtime just before Vincent Lecavalier’s game-winner and defenseman Randy made the breakout pass to Teddy Purcell that led directly to the decisive score.
But that’s just it about the Lightning – one guy goes down to injury or, at times, doesn’t play well and another steps up – or, in this case, two.
On the Washington side of things? To this point, not so much.
Well, that was some ride, wasn’t it? It was only fitting to end things with a 1-0, game seven thriller to cap a largely unpredictable series and a stunning comeback for the Tampa Bay Lightning. As we said several times throughout, this series had just about everything.
Kudos to the Pittsburgh Penguins for an outstanding season and an amazing will to fight through all kinds of adversity. There’s no doubt in my mind that, with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin in that lineup, this one wouldn’t have ended up going Tampa’s way. But, in the end, it did and now the Bolts are off to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and a date with division rival Washington for a berth in the Conference Final.
Before we get to that, the Pens/Lightning series is worth one final reflection, at least and, after Metz tackles the unenviable task of accounting for what went wrong down Pittsburgh way, I’ll jump back in to hash out a handful of things that the Bolts did right:
Metz on the ousted Penguins:
Jon and I knew that this series wouldn’t go on forever and that one of our teams would have to head home for the summer. We also talked openly of wishing that each of the teams could move on, as the series was damn entertaining and we have been enjoying the heck out of our collaboration. But, as is the case with most team sports, there is no “alright, we both win” situations and it is I that has been put in the unenviable position (as JJ said in his lead in) of explaining why YOUR Pittsburgh Penguins are hitting the links as we speak. (Well, maybe not yet, considering they have their final clean-up day tomorrow… but Saturday? It’s on!)
Though the Penguins had what some would call a stranglehold on the series having taken a 3-1 lead through four games, it really wasn’t that tight of a death grip. Anyone who had been watching the series realized that the Penguins had shown plenty of Achilles heels during those first four games. The biggest of which was their inability to score goals.
The AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs began with three affiliates of the NHL’s Southeast Division and that number was destined to shrink by at least one with Hershey and Charlotte squaring off in the opening round.
Unfortunately, the Carolina Hurricanes are the lone remaining Southeast Division squad with an AHL affiliate still vying for the Calder Cup, as the Checkers bested the Hershey Bears four games to two, while the Norfolk Admirals also fell in six games, despite a 2-0 series lead, to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Here’s a stat line look at the games played since we last checked in and some heres and theres on the AHL playoffs thus far, as well as a look ahead at Charlotte’s schedule this week, as they get set to take on Wilkes-Barre in the East Division Final.
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 4/19/11: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2, Norfolk Admirals 1
Norfolk goal-scorers: Stefano Giliati (1)
Norfolk goaltenders (saves/shots): Dustin Tokarski (23/25)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Bryan Lerg, WBS; 2 – Stefano Giliati, NOR; 3 – Dustin Tokarski, NOR
And the Southeast Division officially has a heated rivalry.
Mark that down.
Guess I’ll be staying busy for a while here…
Check back in soon.
He Asked, I Answered, Round 6: On the Perceived Existence of Momentum, a Game 7 Forecast & Much More
Last night, I posted the final set of answers from Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com to my questions after the huge game six win for the Tampa Bay Lightning that has pushed this epic series to where it deserves to be, in my opinion: A true must-win for both sides in what should be a classic game seven.
Today, we’ll visit the flip-side one last time, with my responses to his most recent inquiries. This one forced me to think extensively, including a reversal of my original prediction for the series, partially by force (can’t well end in six now, can it?) and partially because I’ve bought in to what one team is selling (spoiler there?) Anywho… Read on:
BM: It is pretty obvious that the Lightning are carrying a significant amount of momentum into Game 7, however the Penguins have a good bit of experience when it comes to clinching in those emotional, pressure packed games. One need only look at their Stanley Cup run in 2009 to see that, as they won huge Game 7s against both the Capitals and Red Wings en route to winning it all. Do you think that the wave of momentum that the Lightning is riding is enough to overcome the Penguins perceived experience advantage in Game 7s?
JJ: I will start to answer this by letting you know of what I am absolutely, positively, 100% certain, having watched this team as closely as I have under Guy Boucher. They will treat game seven as nothing more than their next task at hand. Their coach doesn’t allow for anything else.